Michele Nucciotti


The archaeological investigations in Dvin (Hnaberd, Armenia) between October 11th and November 5th have concerned two different fieldworks: THE FIRST aimed at resuming the research of the Market, the name conventionally given to a large architectural complex located about 400 meters south of the Central District of the city, which is more than two hectares. The Market area was only partially excavated, in several campaigns, starting from 1955, of which neither the chronology nor the function is yet clear (Fig. 1).


This area was the object of archaeological research twice before our mission. The first excavation started in 1955 and highlighted a spacious hall with 32 column bases and some rectangular rooms (for an area of approximately 3000-3500 sq. meter. The expedition's head, professor, Karo Kafadaryan, interpreted it as a market and dated back to the 7th century (Kafadaryan K., 1982, pp 34-35, p. 15, in Armenian). Some years later, Aram Kalantaryan, the next leader of the Dvin’s expedition, assumed that this structure was a caravanserai and that it was not fully understood (Kalantarian A., 1990, p. 171, in Russian).

Thus, the actual function of this huge half-explored structure remains unclear. For this reason, we decided to first carry out a deep cleaning of the entire area to bring to light the structures that had emerged thanks to previous archaeological campaigns. The situation at the end of this cleaning work is interesting: there are two different parts of a floor with stone slabs, column bases, floor made of bricks and brick wall remains (fig. 2 and 2a). The main aims of next season concerning this area is to open a proper stratigraphic excavation in order to clarify the topography of the site, the stratigraphy of the context and to try to propose a valuable interpretation of it.




THE SECOND GOAL relates to the opening of a stratigraphic excavation of a 5x5 m area (Area 1000), located in a flat zone south of the citadel, more precisely between this and the excavations conducted around 2010 at the south tower of the curtain wall (Fig. 3). The 2021 excavation campaign focused on the area of the so-called “south tower”, which had already been investigated previously. The earlier excavations, located immediately south of the digging area opened in 2021 (a 5x5m square), gave back an articulated stratigraphic column that covers the chronological period between the 6 th and the end of the 13th century. Moreover, the location of the new square was considering the fact that this portion of the site, between the south tower area and the south slope of the citadel, has never been excavated before. Hence, it will allow us to investigate a complete stratigraphic column, and also to recognize the de-urbanization phases of Dvin. On the other hand, as was expected, the upper portion of the archaeological deposit was covered by a strong natural sediment (thickness of 0.90-1.20 m) made of washed away soil from the upper portion of the citadel. The sediment (SUs 1000-1003, 1006) was composed of micro-layers (a few millimetres thick with abundant crushed stone of very small dimensions superimposed on each other) with a great number of pottery fragments. It is noteworthy that all the sherds are laid horizontally, which can be attributed to sliding down the slope. Those materials mainly date back to a large temporal range (12th–14th centuries)[1] , but also a few samples of Bronze Age pottery (polished on the external surface and with a fine and well-cooked black ware) were found.


The first anthropic layers were identified in the eastern portion of the square. They (SUs 1004, 1005, 1007, 1011) were characterized by orange and dark brown/black soil with masses of ash, which clearly display that a fire was lit. Those layers had a semi-circular shape, underlined by an irregular boundary of black ash and burnt soil on the western and northern sides, while they continue under the southern and eastern sections of the digging area. Currently, we cannot identify a chronological framework for the fire, since the excavation has to be completed; however, we can hypothesise that it follows the phases of decline and progressive de-urbanization of the site (second half of the 13th century according to traditional interpretations). In these layers, a conspicuous number of pottery fragments and abundant animal bones were found. These finds show burning traces only in a few cases. After a preliminary analysis, the ceramic context seems to refer to chronologies of the 12th - 14th centuries (see also note 1).


In the eastern portion of the square, the layers with fire traces covered a round floor made by a preparation of clayish-sandy soil of different textures – soft and plastic in the southern portion, more compact to the northern. This preparation (SUs 1012, 1016, 1010) appeared as a series of pourings with a South-North orientation (according to their physical relations). The upper surface of the layers created a horizontal plan (deepness between 0,76 and 0,78 m). Actually, these layers are in situ and their removal is one of the goals of the next season. However, the scarcity of material and the widespread of coals have already been noted. Finally, on the surface of MSU 1010, it was possible to recognize the negative imprints of three squared bricks aligned with West-East orientation (fig. 4). More than the others, this element seems to support the interpretation of those layers as an open-area walking surface, on which the architectural elements laid in a non- determinable period.


In order to clarify the function and composition of US 1010 – the northern portion of the ground level - and to obtain the widest stratigraphic column for this season, a small trench of 1.50x1 m was carried out at the NE corner of the digging area (fig. 5). Immediately under SU 1010, a small portion of an ash layer (SU 1018) with frequent little fragments of charcoal, lumps of mortar and pottery fragments was intercepted. Because of the scarce visibility of this layer, located in the south-eastern corner of the trench, it is not possible to suggest an interpretation about his formation. However, the presence of an ash deposit under SU 1010 credits the hypothesis that the latter was a walking plan and not a vertical structure. Under this, three layers (SUs 1021, 1023, 1025, from the earlier to the later one) of compact clayish soil with lumps of mortar, fragments of charcoal and fragments of mud bricks were uncovered. The mud bricks fragments were made of a mixture of compact clay, rod-shaped organic inclusions and chamotte. Even if it is not possible to suggest reliable hypotheses about those actions because of the restricted size of the trench, they appear like a series of shallow layers of preparation for the ground level embodied by SUs 1010, 1012 and 1016.


In conclusion, the 2021 archaeological season in the south-tower portion of Dvin’s citadel allowed investigating the most recent portion of the stratigraphic deposit (Fig. 6, 7, 8 respectively plan of the end of this year excavation, B-B1 section, D-D1 section) which can be framed in a chronological horizon contemporary and/or subsequent to the decline phase of the city (second half of the 13th century). Under a thick natural sediment, anthropic actions referable to two actions and phases were intercepted: preparation of a ground floor and burning operations.




Fig. 8 D-D1 section

The elaboration of the stratigraphic context allows us to design a Harris Matrix and to define the first phasing of this Area, as we can see in Fig. 9:

-          A1 corresponds to strong natural sediment made of washed away soil from the upper portion of the citadel, the more recent phase;

-          A2 corresponds to the first anthropic phase recognize in this area with burnt traces;

-          A3 corresponds to an open area surface, with some negative traces of bricks.


As for the finds, abundant quantities of ceramics and animal bones were found, but the presence of metals (including a coin datable to the end of the 12th century) was also widespread. Ceramics, which undoubtedly constitute the most represented class of artefacts, have been the subject of a preliminary analysis, aimed at framing their technological classes and chronologies (based on existing studies).

Most of them are unglazed ceramics (sometimes externally decorated), but a conspicuous quantity of glazed pottery was also found (green glazed on white engobe, engobes and engraved with transparent/light yellow glaze overlayed, engobes and painted with transparent/yellow glaze clear, engobes and engobes with engraves under blue/blue glaze, faience or fritware with blue or blue) (fig. 10).


During the field season we prepared all the material contexts to be ready to proceed with more accurate investigations. We photographically documented all sherds, and we took a photogrammetric survey of each identifying fragment of the shape of the original pottery. This last step is very important because it allows us to carry out the metric survey and elaborate a 3D model of each piece (fig. 11). Next step will be the complete documentation of the fragments with the calculation of the IMN (individual minimum number) of each typology we found.


In order to better understand the productive chain of the glazed and unglazed pottery production we started the archaeometrical analyses, foreseen in the project. Given the availability of additional funding it was decided to invest more budget in this task. We choose a first selection of samples from previous excavations to use as reference data:


The chosen Laboratory is the Lab of Archeometrical Analysis of the Department of Geological Science of the University of Brno, who owns a relevant reference collection of medieval/Islamic ceramic specimens from CAM (Caucasus, Anatolia, Mesopotamia) and Persia/Iran, that will enable to identify local productions from Dvin and to distinguish them from imported materials from the wider Islamic world.

The samples are analyzed as follows:

  1. Analysis of glaze chemical composition non-destructively by tablet-top ED-XRF
  2. Polychrome glaze map by SEM-EDX
  3. Petrographic analysis and glazes by SEM-EDX
  4. LA-ICP-Mass Spectrometry


[1] In an interpretive perspective - it is necessary to consider the large extent of the chronologies of the Armenian pottery classification, due to the lack of stratigraphic excavations conducted with updated methods. The main aim of the post excavation analysis will be to study all these materials and the stratigraphic column to determine a more specific chronological span of life in our context.